Marcus Ericsson wins Indy 500 in two-lap shootout over Pato O’Ward

0 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — Marcus Ericsson won the 106th Indy 500, outdueling Pato O’Ward in a thrilling finish Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Swedish driver led the final 11 laps, but it wasn’t easy as the race was red-flagged with five laps remaining for a crash involving Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jimmie Johnson.

After a restart with two laps remaining, Ericsson got a good jump and then fended off a charge by O’Ward, who had Arrow McLaren SP teammate Felix Rosenqvist directly behind and Tony Kanaan on the outside.

RESULTS: Where everyone finished in the 106th Indy 500

FULL STATS PACKAGE: Points standings, event summary, results, pit stops, more

Ericsson’s No. 8 Dallara-Honda won over O’Ward under caution. The race’s sixth and final yellow came on the final lap for a Turn 2 wreck involving Sage Karam, who was transported to Methodist Hospital for muscle soreness. An IndyCar spokesman said Karam had passed concussion protocol and later confirmed that Karam was seen and released (the driver later tweeted he was OK).

Kanaan finished third (his best Indy 500 showing since winning in 2013), followed by Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi rounding out the top five with season bests.

It was the first victory of the 2022 season for Ericsson and the third of his career (after wins last year at Detroit and Nashville).

“I couldn’t believe it, “Ericsson told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “I felt you can never take anything for granted and obviously there was still laps to go, and I was praying so hard it was not going to be another yellow. But I knew it was probably going to be one.

“It was hard to sort of refocus. But I knew the car was amazing. The 8 crew and Chip Ganassi Racing and Honda has done such an amazing job. So I knew the car was fast enough.

“But it was still hard. I had to do everything there to keep them behind, but I can’t believe it. I’m so happy. My family, mom and dad and my brother, my girlfriend, my manager; they’re all here today, and I won. I can’t believe it.”

Ericsson led 13 laps, the fewest laps led by a winner since Juan Pablo Montoya (nine in 2015). He also became the 14th Indy 500 winner to record the fastest lap of the race (224.852 mph on Lap 179) since records were kept starting in 1951.

Ericsson, who is in his fourth full season of IndyCar after making 97 starts over five seasons in Formula One from 2014-18, is relatively new to ovals but drove like a wily veteran over the final two laps.

He aggressively snaked all over the straightaways to break the draft of O’Ward, Kanaan and Rosenqvist.

“He was going to put me in the wall if I would have gone for it,” O’Ward told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee about the final restart. “We were alongside each other.

“Man, I’m so proud of the team and proud of myself. We did everything to get it done, and even getting a massive run on him. We had no wicker, less downforce and still not enough speed to get by him. Even with a massive run. It’s frustrating. It’s bittersweet.

“I’m so proud, but it definitely stings because I feel like the team and I did everything perfectly to get it done, and something that’s out of our control was why we struggled in the end.”

“Man, all these guys deserve it, and I feel like I drove a race to position us there. It’s just bummer we didn’t have more. We have work to do, and we’ll come back next year with a faster and better race car and go at it again.”

Kanaan’s third place was his best finish at the Brickyard since winning the 2013 Indy 500, and the 2004 IndyCar champion told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns that he hoped to make one more start next year (which will be his 25th in IndyCar).

“If it wasn’t for the red flag, we had a chance for second,” Kanaan said. “Let’s be realistic. I was not going to pass two cars in the last four laps, although I was the fastest car out there at the end. With that red flag, I’m like, ‘Hey, can pull a TK restart here,’ but yeah, it wasn’t enough. We came here to win a race as a team and we accomplished that today. Selfishly I wanted to win, but Chip asked us to win this race as one team. We did it. We’re sitting up there on the podium with Marcus.”

Ericsson, 31, became the first Swedish driver to win the Indy 500 since Kenny Brack in 1999.

Marcus Ericsson of Sweden won the Indy 500 in his No. 8 Dallara-Honda, his first victory of the 2022 season and third of his IndyCar career (Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY Sports).

It also marked the first Indy 500 win in 10 years for Chip Ganassi, who publicly had been vowing for months that “it was time to win the Indy 500” and delivered the message to his Indy-based organization.

“Sweeter every time,” Ganassi told Snider about kissing the bricks as the winner. “No question we’ve got one team. Everybody roots for everybody else. Everybody works together. Everybody’s open book. I said this morning look, guys, everybody is cheering for everybody else to win this thing. As long as one of us won it, everybody’s happy.

“We were lucky this May to have good cars, good drivers, good partners. It all works out when the happens. It’s obviously a great day for the team, and that’s all that matters. What’s important is we came here in May to win the Indianapolis 500, and that’s what we did.”

Though Ganassi entered the race with the fastest cars, two of the team’s contenders still faltered.

For the fourth consecutive time, Scott Dixon was unable to win from the pole position, and a 21st-place finish might have been the most gutting defeat yet after leading a race-high 95 of 200 laps.

The No. 9 Dallara-Honda was in control until the final green-flag pit stop when Dixon was caught for speeding after entering in the lead on Lap 166. The six-time IndyCar Series champion was eliminated from contention after serving a drive-through penalty for going too fast in the pit lane on entry.

“Are you serious?” an incredulous Dixon asked his team on the radio.

Dixon still made Indy 500 history in multiple ways, most notably on Lap 133 by becoming the race’s all-time leader in laps led. He now has 665 career laps led at the Indy 500, breaking the previous mark of 644 that was held by late four-time winner Al Unser.

Until his critical mistake, it seemed as if Dixon, whose lone Indy 500 win came from the pole in 2008, had gotten all the breaks, notably when the pits opened on Lap 108 under yellow with his car nearly out of fuel.

“It’s just heartbreaking to be honest,” Dixon told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch. “I don’t know. Must have been very close. I kind of came into the pit and locked the rears. And then kind of locked all four, and I knew it was going to be close.

“I think it was like a mph over or something. Just frustrating. The car was really good all day. We had really good speed. I think the team did an amazing job on strategy. I just messed up.”

Teammate Alex Palou was much less fortunate when the yellow flew on Lap 69 for a Turn 2 crash involving Callum Ilott. Palou was trying to make his second stop and already had committed to pit lane just as it was closed by IndyCar.

With his No. 10 Dallara-Honda out of fuel, the defending series champion was forced to make another stop for emergency service while the pits were still closed, and he was sent to the rear outside the top 25 for the restart. He managed to rebound from 32nd to ninth over the second half.

“I had lots of fun during this race,” Palou told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “There was one point where my heart broke in pieces, but we continued going and had a good result at the end of the day. Super proud about the Chip Ganassi Racing team. Super proud and happy for Marcus. We just haven’t had the luck we needed today.

“So we had a really strong car. We were extracting everything from it, playing a little bit with Dixon at the beginning. And then at the end, I couldn’t have done anything different with that yellow. Wrong place, wrong time. But we’ll come back again next year. It was hard work. Super proud. It was the most moves I’ve made in an oval race. I’m happy. I’m getting there.”

The race became a fast-paced shootout over the last 40 laps after a Lap 152 caution for Scott McLaughlin slamming into the Turn 3 and 4 SAFER barriers.

The Team Penske driver’s No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet snapped loose on the exit of Turn 3 and made contact with the right front. After skidding through the grass, McLaughlin had a head-on hit in the next corner but was able to walk from the car.

“Bruised ego,” McLaughlin told Lee. “We had a fast race car. Running really strong. I just got caught by a gust of wind. Just caught me, snapped around. Really gutted for everyone.”

The caution flew for the first time on Lap 39 for Rinus VeeKay, who lost control of his No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet exiting Turn 2 while running second. The Dutchman, who had joined two-time Indy 500 winner and fellow countryman Arie Luyendyk as among the fastest drivers in Brickyard qualifying, was able to walk from the wreck, but his Ed Carpenter Racing entry was destroyed.

In his third Indy 500, VeeKay had qualified third and started on the front row for the second consecutive year.

“First of all, I have to say sorry to all the fans and the team and everyone who has worked hard,” VeeKay, 21, told Snider. “We put the car on the front row. We were in P2, but it was tough out there. The car was a little bit free all race.

“Yeah, I just turned into Turn 2, the car gets loose. Once that happens, you’re a passenger and couldn’t do anything. Yeah, just a bummer, really. I think we had a good shot at a good finish or maybe a win. But yeah, just caught me off guard.”

In his Indy 500 debut, Jimmie Johnson struggled with the handling of his No. 48 Dallara-Honda from the green flag and dropped steadily from a 12th-place starting position.

Fighting an understeer condition as a driver who prefers oversteer, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion got cycled out of the top 20 early in the race.

After leading Laps 188-189 by running long before his final pit stop, Johnson caught his left-front wheel on the grass below the white line and spun into the Turn 2 SAFER barrier in a front-end collision.

Johnson, who had a contingent of nearly 100 on hand, was able to walk to the safety truck.

“It just spun around,” Johnson told Welch. “I was really surprised it turned around that early. I don’t know the bad situation I put myself in, but it came around so quick. I hate to do that that late in the race. Very treacherous environment out there. Learned a lot. Track position was the name of the game, and we just never had it all day long and just had the crash there at the end.”

Turn 2 was a major trouble spot as the site of five crashes by Johnson, VeeKay, Ilott, Karam and Romain Grosjean, who found the wall while exiting the corner on Lap 106.

It was the first oval crash for the Formula One veteran, who had several close calls the past two weeks on the 2.5-mile track.

“The car spun; I don’t know why,” Grosjean told Lee. “No warning in that corner. No issue. It was actually pretty good in 1 and 2, 3 and 4 was a bit more tricky, but 1 and 2, I was pretty good.

“I’m actually looking forward to go and see the data and try and understand because I wasn’t expecting anything bad on that corner, and obviously, I spun without any warning.”

Ilott left the IMS infield care center with a wrap on his right wrist and hand.

“It was a bit of a hard hit, and I hit again on the inside, but all OK,” Ilott told Lee. “They checked me over. Obviously a little bit of an issue with the right hand, but we’ll see how it is in a couple of days.

‘But big thanks to the safety team, the safety barrier as well, but sorry for the team as well. It wasn’t running too bad up until then.”